|BISHOP LORI ADMITS
TO KEEPING IN MINISTRY A PRIEST CREDIBLY ACCUSED OF ABUSE
Protesters: Accused priest should not be in active ministry
By Daniel Tepfer firstname.lastname@example.org
November 17, 2003
Bridgeport - Protesters handed out leaflets Sunday outside St. Augustine Cathedral and a New Fairfield church in opposition to an active priest accused of molesting a young teenage girl.
David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, joined members of local victims' support groups in the protest of the refusal of the diocese to suspend Monsignor Martin Ryan.
"We are distraught over Bishop William Lori's decision to keep an admitted molester in active ministry, thus violating the charter and his pledge to put the safety of children first," Clohessy said as he handed out leaflets outside the cathedral Sunday afternoon. "Lori's decision is a gross violation of the zero tolerance policy toward sexual abuse Lori and other church leaders have promised."
Ryan, pastor of St. Edward the Confessor parish in New Fairfield, has been accused of molesting the girl in the 1970s when she was a member of the Catholic Youth Organization at St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull.
The diocese recently agreed to pay the woman as part of a $21 million settlement to 40 people who claimed they were abused by priests in the diocese.
Despite the diocese's claim of "transparency" when it comes to allegations against priests, the woman's claims were first made public by the Connecticut Post last year.
During a Memorial Day weekend in either 1975 or 1976, when she was 15 or 16 years old, the woman said she was in the St. Theresa's rectory when Ryan called her into his office. "He said he had to show me something in his office,'' she said.
When she entered his office, the woman claimed Ryan grabbed her and began French-kissing her. She said he fondled her breasts through her clothes.
When she tried to pull away, the woman said Ryan responded: "Isn't this something you always wanted?"
"I said, 'No,' and I was fighting to get away and he said, "This is all your fault, so you better not tell anyone.' "
The woman said she broke free and ran away, finally stopping to sit beneath some trees where she began sobbing uncontrollably.
She said she told a girlfriend, who then told her the same thing had happened to her.
She said diocese lawyer Michael Dolan later told her he had located her friend, who, along with her sister, claimed Ryan abused them.
She said diocesan officials told her Ryan was having "issues with celibacy. "
Jim Alvord, of Norwalk, a member of the lay reform group Voices of the Faithful, joined Clohessy outside the cathedral.
"The diocese's action in this case flies in the face of everything we were brought up to believe," he said.
Maria Garcia, a parishioner at St. Augustine's, stopped to read a flier handed her by SNAP New York chapter head David Cerulli.
"This is a big problem that can drive us from the church," she said. "I hope it never happens again."
"Monsignor Martin Ryan has the full support of Bishop Lori; the diocese; the independent professionals on the Diocesan Review Board, who reviewed his case thoroughly, several times; and the members of his own parish," said diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer.
"This has not changed, and has been our public position for more
than one year. Monsignor Ryan does not pose a threat to anyone. He will
remain in active ministry, and is entitled like anyone else to his good
Bishop William E. Lori said Thursday that 60 percent of the settlement will be funded through the sale of "undeveloped surplus property" owned by the diocese. The bishop, speaking at a press conference at the Catholic Center, refused to be specific about the number of properties or their location.
"It is still under negotiation and is not appropriate to talk about," he said.
Lori said the remaining 40 percent of the settlement will be covered by insurance.
Attorney Jason Tremont, who, along with Cindy Robinson, represents the 40 abuse victims, said the diocese is to make an initial payment of $5 million by the end of the year, followed by four more payments of $4 million during the next year.
On Wednesday, after a year of negotiations before U.S. Federal Magistrate William I. Garfinkel, the diocese agreed to pay 40 people who claimed to have been abused by 16 diocesan priests in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the victims have not been publicly identified.
Two years ago the diocese paid $15 million to settle claims by 26 people who said they had been abused by priests.
Diocesan officials said this week's settlement brings the total of payments to $37.7 million paid to settle 89 claims since 1953, when the diocese was established. Of the prior settlements, 35 percent was funded through diocesan land sales.
While the diocese had previously acknowledged abuse claims against 15 of its priests, it revealed for the first time Thursday that another priest, the Rev. Henry A. Albeke, had been suspended in August 2002 after a man reported he had been abused by the priest in 1978 at St. Jude Church in Monroe.
Lori opened the press conference by apologizing to the victims of abuse.
"Let me express my personal remorse and the remorse of the entire diocese for the harm that was caused in the lives of so many individuals," he said. "With all my heart I apologize and ask for forgiveness."
However, Lori sidestepped questions about New York Cardinal Edward Egan's role in the sex-abuse scandal.
Court documents show Egan, who was bishop of the Bridgeport Diocese from 1988 to 2000, reassigned priests accused of abuse to different posts around the diocese without disciplining them.
"I know the cardinal feels deeply about this," Lori said, adding that Egan handled the situation "differently."
Lori said two of the 16 priests accused of abuse have been laicized or removed from the priesthood while three have died, 10 are no longer active but still receive funding from the diocese, and one, Monsignor Martin P. Ryan, remains active.
In November 2002, a woman who previously lived in Trumbull told diocesan officials she was abused by Ryan at St. Theresa parish in Trumbull in the mid-1970s when she was 17.
Lori said the diocese's sexual misconduct board twice examined the allegations against Ryan and determined he is not a danger to children and is fit to remain in the ministry. The bishop said he continues to stand behind Ryan, but included the abuse case against him in the settlement "in an attempt to gain closure."
Ryan is currently pastor of St. Edward the Confessor parish in New Fairfield.
"We stand behind all the claims of all our clients and, at the very least, all these priests need to be suspended," Robinson said.
Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can
be reached at 330-6308.
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